review for The City of Lost Children on AllMovie

The City of Lost Children (1995)
by Elbert Ventura review

With The City of Lost Children, their second full-length feature, French filmmakers Jean Pierre Jeunet and Marc Caro cemented their claim to a distinct authorial style. An elaborate dystopian vision with a fairy tale sensibility, The City of Lost Children imagines a resolutely sui generis world of freak-show grotesques, Dickensian orphans, and Rube Goldbergian convolutions. Revealing a bottomless capacity for invention, Jeunet and Caro tell their story with ruthless precision and flamboyance. As with their feature debut, Delicatessen, Jeunet and Caro's follow-up betrays their roots in animation. The baroque production design and darkly epic scope inspired comparisons to Terry Gilliam, Tim Burton, and Blade Runner; a less cited, but equally apt, reference point is the Coen brothers: like the Coens, Jeunet and Caro practice a cinema of consummate and self-conscious manipulation. From the eerily airless mise-en-scene to the archetypal familiarity of the characters, the filmmakers' exacting style is tightly controlled and leaves little room for spontaneity. It's a modus operandi that sparks debate: the movie received mixed reviews upon its release, with some critics accusing Jeunet and Caro of being soulless smart alecks interested only in the machinery, and not the humanity, of film. While not unfounded, the observation is also incomplete, failing to account for the signal pleasures of succumbing to the whims of master raconteurs.